Few of us can really understand a person with a suicidal mind and the associated organ, the brain. We can certainly empathize with their pain; their anguish; but to presume that we do so completely is an overstatement. Because a non-suicidal brain is simply wired differently. So, we never really get it.
As a recent survivor of suicide loss, I spent considerable time in the first year of my bereavement searching; exploring; grappling for answers to my question: Why did my husband die of suicide? He had it all: name, fame, adored by patients and students, a loving family that also included two adorable dogs, a peaceful home… It was a made-to-order life. Could anyone ask for more?
The recent deaths of celebrity fashion designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef Antony Bourdain brought to surface and public scrutiny the eternal suicide conundrum—they too had it all. Yet why did they call it quits?
Often, in reporting about suicide, the media goes overboard. Sensitivity and informed perspectives are often thrown to the winds. Instead sensationalism, insensitivity and lack of informed perspectives are the drivers of newsworthiness. Friends and relatives are no better. At my husband’s funeral, speculation was rife about why he chose to kill himself. There was a desperate desire to ‘fix’ the reason for the suicide. Was it due to the fact that the human mind desires to categorize, slot and fit life into neat boxes in our desire to explain even the inexplicable?
The reason I carp and cringe is that such speculations adversely impact and exacerbate the trauma being faced by survivors of suicide loss. In addition to the primary trauma of losing our loved one to a horrific death, we are subject to secondary trauma that is even worse than the primary trauma.
Suicide is a result of a convergence of multiple factors: personality, neuro chemistry and a host of bio psycho social factors. Even the seemingly apparent reason such as a relationship breakdown, financial crisis, poor performance in exams or mental health issues such as depression are just risk factors. The tipping point is often the result of a convergence of many such risk factors. It can never be attributed to that elusive single factor that can explain why our loved ones chose to take their own lives when well, they had it all. It will forever remain an eternal mystery.
In retrospect, I understand the tunnel vision experienced by people who are strongly suicidally ideated and complete suicide. Despite having it all, their brains, the decision-making organ is impaired. It tells them that life is not worth living because their “psyche ache” or psychological pain is “insurmountable.” They choose to die of suicide not because they want to die but because they want to end their pain. Their brains are like impaired limbs. Severely constrained and limited. (Yet equally brilliant in many aspects). And death, as they perceive it, is the best way to do so.
Dr. TR Murali… Kate Spade… Antony Bourdain… and every person in the 800,000 people who die of suicide every year. Every suicide is different. Like our finger prints. Like the stripes on a zebra. Or spots on a leopard. People who die of suicide are not mere statistics. They are persons first. And their families and close friends —survivors of suicide loss struggle to piece their shattered lives. How can we reach out to them with compassion and love?
Today a year after my husband’s death, I no longer obsess with the why? Because no matter how much I explore, I will never know why…
Dr. Nandini Murali
Dr. Nandini Murali is a feminist and a gender and diversity professional. She is an author who also provides technical support in communications for the social sector. When she is not working, she heads off to the forests with her camera. Currently, she has a magnificent obsession with photographing leopards!